USAU Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard hosted a reception for the African Union Commission’s Youth Volunteer Corps. In her welcome remarks, she highlighted that, with almost 70 percent of Africans under 25 years of age, empowering young people is at the heart of U.S.-Africa relations. She also elaborated on the way the United States has demonstrated its commitment to this issue through a wide of range of efforts—from promoting girls’ education in STEM fields to empowering youth leaders with the tools to build the “Africa We Want”—an Africa without borders, an Africa that is self-reliant and prosperous. Below is a full text of the remarks (as prepared) she delivered at the reception.
Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard
United States Mission to the African Union
AU Youth Division Reception Remarks
I am very honored to welcome you all to my residence. Today’s reception celebrates the African Union Commission’s theme of 2017, “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through investments in Youth”. It also serves as an important opportunity to underscore the U.S. Mission to the African Union’s partnership with the Commission and the Human Resources, Science and Technology Department.
With almost 70 percent of Africans under 25 years of age, empowering young people is at the heart of U.S.-Africa relations. The United States has demonstrated our commitment through a wide of range of efforts—from promoting girls’ education in STEM fields to empowering youth leaders with the tools to build the “Africa We Want”—an Africa without borders, an Africa that is self-reliant and prosperous.
Africa is on the move. It’s one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. Africa’s middle class is projected to grow to more than one billion consumers in the next decade. American companies are seeking partnerships across the continent.
With hundreds of millions of mobile phones and surging access to the Internet, Africa is beginning to leapfrog old technologies into new prosperity. Young people are at the heart of this movement. Young people are driving change, development, and growth.
The continent has achieved historic gains in health, from fighting HIV/AIDS to making childbirth safer for women, saving the lives of newborn babies and improvements in immunizations. Millions have been lifted from extreme poverty. This is extraordinary progress and it is being pushed by intergenerational collaboration that include youth led initiatives and interventions.
It is far too often that young people are seen through a lens of fear and insecurity and rarely that youth are seen as partners for peace who are enhancing their communities and countries. We are looking to you to change that narrative.
We have witnessed how valuable the voices of youth are in promoting security in the places where they live and work. In Nigeria, youth engagement was crucial to the interfaith dialogue to stem the violence that hurt their communities. In Tunisia, youth are providing input to government decisions that foster a more youth-friendly environment to promote entrepreneurship as an antidote to violent extremism and reduce clandestine migration. In South Africa and Kenya, young people are engaging in peer-to-peer dialogue to dissuade at-risk youth who are vulnerable to the influence of gangs. Young leaders are tackling the pressing challenges of the day and tomorrow.
The work the AU Youth Division is doing at the African Union and across the African continent deserves recognition. Through US government assistance, we are proud to partner and support the work of the African Union Commission in the promotion of youth empowerment and employment through skills development and entrepreneurship programs. We directly sponsor the AU Youth Volunteer Corps and are advocates for improved vocational education through the Technical Vocation Education and Training programs managed by the youth division.
You are an impressive group. I am amazed by your sense of service and commitment to advancing the African Union’s objectives, as outlined in Agenda 2063.
In closing– I want you to consider the words of Shirley Chisolm, the first African-American woman in Congress during her unprecedented Presidential campaign in 1972, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”